wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Vidia Naipaul

Among the Believers

One of the English-language magazines I bought was published from the holy city of Qom. It was The Message of Peace, and, as its title warned, it was full of rage.

It raged about the Shah; about the 'devils' of the West and the evils of its technology; it even raged about poor old Mr Desai, the Indian prime minister, who banned alcohol (good, from the Muslim point of view) but drank urine (from the Muslim point of view, deplorable). But it wasn't for its rages that I bought the magazine, or for the speeches of Khomeini, or for the biographies of the Shia Imams. I bought the Message of Peace for an article on Islamic urban planning.

Could there be such a thing? Apparently; and more, it was badly needed. Islam was a complete way of life; it didn't separate the worldly from the spiritual. Hence it was necessary, in addition to avoiding materialist industrial excess, to plan for 'a theocentric society.' In this society women also had to be sheltered. Problems! But the very existence of these problems proved the need for sensible Islamic planning. And a solution was possible.

Build, at the corners of an imagined square, four residential areas. Give each a mosque, a clinic and a nursery: that is where the women will busy themselves. The men will go to work. They will go to work in the centre of the square. At the very heart of this working area there will be a mosque large enough to hold all the male population. With the mosque there will be an alms-giving centre, since the giving of alms is as important in Islam as prayer, or fasting, or the pilgrimage to Mecca.

In a circle around the mosque there will be a bazaar; around the bazaar will be a circle of offices; and at the perimeter of this office circle there will be hospitals, maternity homes and schools, so that men on their way to work can take their children to school, and on other occasions can rush to hospitals or maternity homes.

For recreation, women can meet and chat. Men can ride horses or take up flying. 'The idea is not to encourage such games which distract the religious consciousness of the community.'

There are certain other Islamic requirements. Water from recycled sewage is not to be used, except for irrigation. 'The concept of cleanliness, and water as the medium of bodily cleanliness, is strong in Islam. The purifying agent for water is water itself and the chemical and biological processes are not acceptable from the religious point of view.'

The houses in the residential areas are to be so aligned that the prayer call from the mosque can reach them without the use of an amplifier.' There is a final detail. 'The toilet fixtures like water closets shall be so arranged as to make the user not to face the City of Mecca either from his front or back side.'